Student Area

Reading Response – prototypes

I found this article/blog post relevant to more than just games, but to creative practices as a whole. Forcing yourself to regularly crank out creative ideas is a good way to flex your creativity muscles but it’s hard and exhausting by the end. It’s obvious that one of the points of making things quick and frequent is that they don’t all have to be good, but embracing the possibility of failure is hard especially when you know if things start to go south, you have to kill the baby and start over. I want to be attached to my work because then it feels more meaningful but making everything deep and meaningful is also a hard thing to do.

I really felt the brainstorming point they made because whenever I try to sit down and come up with an idea early on in the timeline of a project I’m always stumped. I always want a great big and meaningful thing but coming up with big and meaningful ideas on the spot is near impossible for me. Sadly, like these boys, it usually takes the pressure of an approaching deadline to get my butt in gear and start making things, even if I’m not super attached to them.

Andrew Chang – to the right, hold on tight!

After reading this, I tried to think of successful games that had complex game mechanics but also a tutorial level with good level design that supported gameplay without throwing an overbearing button tutorial. I have two that come to mind (however they’re similar in some ways): Uncharted 4 and Metal Gear Solid V. I’ll do a very brief summary/explanation of both of the games’ intro levels to show how even complex games can benefit from keeping in mind the level design techniques that Anna Anthropy wrote about.

Uncharted 4:
Boat chase scene -> left analog stick controls movement, right analog stick controls camera. Vehicles can accelerate with right trigger.
Knocked off the boat -> X to ascend when under water. Swimming just like moving otherwise.
Back on boat but on foot -> Moving with legs still like moving in all other ways. O to take cover, and learn how to shoot and use cover.
Cut to Flashback when Nathan was a kid -> teaching, in order, climbing over obstacles, onto obstacles, slippery surfaces, sneaking.

Movement is very important in this game, and so it is reinforced in three ways (narratively and in gameplay): in a vehicle, in water, and on foot. All three control similarly and make clear the method in which players move (left and right analog sticks). Its cover system is important for combat and stealth and so there are multiple instances where this occurs. Traversing the environment, having taught the player the fundamentals of movement and cover, takes it to its final control tutorial: climbing and navigating difficult terrain. Having built the players confidence in moving, crouching, and using cover, the terrain navigation comes very naturally.

Crippled and weak in hospital -> extremely limited movement, left stick to move, right to look.
Some strength returns but some wild stuff happens-> now in crouch position
Threats appear, shooting innocents-> how to go prone, how to hide in environment
Route cut off and you’re discovered-> how to run, and when to run
More sneaking but with enemy movement -> enemies move, you must adapt your sneak accordingly
Injured-> how to fix injury, getting hurt can cripple you
Oh man, so many things but uhhh you have a gun now! Also the room is on fire please shoot the fire extinguisher -> how to shoot, you can affect the environment in interesting ways
Some enemies blocking a corridor -> can shoot and kill enemies, also you can switch guns but only carry two
Oh my god jesus so many things -> how to do a quick dive. Right before this is a large room with multiple threats. You have a silenced gun and a loud one, and the game lets you decide how you approach this encounter.
A flaming whale just swallowed a helicopter what -> this game is wild.

MGSV is a game primarily about sneaking and the game slowly teaches you how to traverse its environment without alerting enemies. You also learn that you can approach situations with a variety of methods. Also this game is crazy.

Both of these games are unlike Mario in the way that they have way more controls and many more ways to interact with the environment, however even with their complexity, good tutorial levels can be designed that teach the player how to play and aren’t obvious about it, levels that reinforce its gameplay slowly but persistently with carefully crafted encounters and environments designed to test the player a little bit more every time.

Homeplay – Glitch Tank

Adela, Andrew, Ari

Glitch Tank: Gameplay


Michael Brough

Smestorp (personal website)

Glitch Tank (presskit)



Released 22 December, 2011. The developer treats himself as an artist. Makes esoteric, glitchy little games with self-generated problems/constraints.



Digital board game with randomized actions cards, and constraints

Inspirations: Shot Shot Shoot, RoboRally, Exuberant Struggle

For the iPad originally (?) Can be played on iOS, Android


Glitch Tank was developed as part of Kompendium, an album of small 2-player games (and is available for free on PC and Mac as part of that). But it turned out to be a much better fit for a touch-screen, so it was developed into a standalone game adding AI, different modes, and a variety of rare events and map features.” (Glitch Tank: Presskit)



IMG_6004 IMG_6006 IMG_6007

Modes: Real time or turn-based

2 players, or VS AI.

Somewhat randomly generated color scheme: confusing for your player/actions

Honestly everything is confusing for the first couple of tries. The game barely explains itself (it has a help page but it’s not very informative nor readable) however it speaks through gameplay.

Both players have access to four moves which are given randomly. Using a move replaces it with a new random move.


There is one rare move which allows a player to move two additional times.

There is one super rare move which allows a player to rotate the entire playing field 180 deg.


The most noteworthy move that you can be given allows you to spawn a mini tank. All mini tanks are affected by your moves the same way the main tank is. A mini tank can also spawn more mini tanks.

Getting the minitank move early is very strong, especially in real time.

In real time, if too much button mashing is being done, the tanks overheat. The developer is open to player suggestions about changing the occurrence of this.


5906 ERTH@$^U(DF_B)BI)$KP feature ???



10/10, however it was only downloaded 100-500 times on all platforms. It has 5.0 stars on the iTunes app store and 16 ratings across all versions.

Homeplay – Overcooked (Bryan)


Overcooked is a “couch co-op” game in which players must work together to prepare meals as efficiently as possible in a variety of wacky and challenging kitchen environments. Gameplay is easy to understand, but mastering the challenges of the unconventional kitchens and maintaining efficiency is often a daunting task that requires lots of player communication and repeated playthroughs of levels.

This game is actually one of my personal favorites to bring to parties. It’s hectic and elicits a lot of frantic yelling, but it’s always a really fun time and players are usually very keen to give a level another try. Getting a 3-star rating is a very satisfying experience, and it keeps players focused on improving, communicating, and doing their best to become a well-oiled cooperative cooking machine. I highly recommend this game for anyone who is looking for a fun challenge with friends.


Overcooked was developed by Phil Duncan and Oli De-Vine. It was the first title the two developed after forming their own company, Ghost Town Games. The game was initially developed with the idea of cooperative gameplay as a focal point rather than an afterthought, as they felt most games prioritized single-player experiences. The game was taken to many gaming festivals and conventions to gather player feedback, and it gained a lot of attention after Team17 offered to help publish the game and flew the pair out to E3 2016 to show it off. After release, the team worked on DLC that was later included in the retail package.


Overcooked has received generally positive reviews. Many reviewers have praised it for its dynamic, frantically fun take on couch co-op.

Reading response

The article that stood out the most was “How to Prototype in Under 7 Days” for its relevancy, relatability and creative insight. I like the idea of forcing yourself to finish in 7 days- i too can see how sometimes extending a deadline doesn’t exactly mean more quality in the final product.

Also I identify with the “more restrictions means more creativity” i feel like i need some kind of a basis, starting point, constraint or something to improve on to fuel my creativity. I’m not good at coming up with something completely from scratch with nothing to go off of.

Homeplay – Crawl

Crawl is an asymmetric rogue like local multiplayer game where 1 player controls the humanoid while others play as ghosts that can incarnate into monsters and traps.

I find the concept of monsters becoming the hero after murdering the hero interesting. It reminds me of Chinese folklores where monsters and animal spirits always have the assumption that human life is the best life, and regard the attainment of human form as their ultimate goal. It is also the reverse of the concept of the hero becoming the monster after defeating the monster, which might also be an interesting theme for a game.

The gameplay is overall fun, and I think the responsiveness contributes to the experience the most. All the visual elements are overreacting to the players’ tiniest commands, which feels morbidly satisfying. I think this is the same kind of “juiciness” one of the readings mentioned.

However I also found the display quite confusing at first, with everything moving around in different directions and I didn’t even know which thing I am. Since everything is pixelated and moving at high speed, I imagine the game will be very confusing for those who don’t play video games a lot.

I think asymmetry is an important element in the game. As the hero you just need to dash at and cut everything that moves. As the monster or trap you’re usually severely handicapped, attacking using some obscure vomit that never manages to hit. While all the monsters are sort of collaborating to kill the hero, they’re also sort of trying to betray each other by stealing the killing blow. When I’m playing other games, I often try to think in the AI enemies’ shoes about how their lives must have sucked. Crawl gave me the chance to actually experience it.

The game seems to be well-received by its audience, with “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on steam. However, I think that for local multiplayer games, players are playing each other as much as they’re playing the game. In other words, the game is merely a platform, a tool for friends to play each other. And thus the love of the game is partially a transference of people’s love of playing with other people.

Readings Repsonse: Play (Avi)

How to prototype a game in under 7 days by Kyle Gray, Kyle Gabler, Shalin Shodhan, Matt Kucic

First of all, I had no idea that Tower of Goo was CMU/ETC project! I definitely remember playing that back in the day. Overall I think the advice here seems pretty solid. Some of it is familiar to me, especially the “creativity needs constraints” bit, which happens all the time in this class as well as other art/design classes I’ve taken and am taking (for example, Acting for Non-Majors).

One major class of advice seems to be about productivity, and debunking some myths around team dynamics. I definitely agree with the point about “2x the time doesn’t mean 2x the quality”, that’s sort of like the Mythical Man Month concept from the software engineering world. Similarly, the process of gathering concept art reminds me of a mood board.

I strongly resonated with the “nobody knows or cares how you made it” and “forget great engineering” notions — that’s something I’ve seen first hand (and subsequently evangelized at hackathons over and over). As someone who’s programmed professionally for a while, it’s often hard to let the temptation to optimize (prematurely) go.

Finally, the “make it juicy” bit reminded me of this awesome talk (recorded with poor quality, unfortunately) from a game design conference:

Reading: How to prototype a game in under 7 days

This post had some extremely valuable takeaways for someone getting started in Game Development. It was written by Kyle Gabler, one of the graduate students at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center. The group’s goal was to build 50 new experimental games in one semester. This is a post of their lessons learned. The author’s key points were:

  1. Rapid is a state of mind
  2. Structured brainstorming is a myth
  3. Nobody knows how you made it, and nobody cares
  4. It needs to be fun

Personally, my favorite lesson is something that I’ve already learned a lot in this course: “It needs to be fun”. You should be able to run the game over in your head, and think, “this is going to make people excited and here’s why”. The author of the article said he and his friends spent a ton of time in the brainstorming phase, listening to music and looking at art that inspired them. They would often spend 3-4 days out of the week doing this, and then spend the last 3-4 crunching down, doing development and sound design, and creating art. They said the creative ideation phase was actually the most valuable, and one of the best things you can do is think all the way through what makes your game “fun” before you write a line of code.

I also enjoyed what they said about structured brainstorming, even though I don’t always find it true. They said you can’t schedule time for creativity, and it just has to happen. Personally, I still think scheduled brainstorming is really valuable, though you definitely can’t force it.

Finally, I appreciated the mindset of “it doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to work”. It’s easy to waste a lot of time getting caught up in the details of making something perfect, and never stop to think if it actually needs all the bells and whistles for a real reason. I loved this post, and I’ll be taking it to heart!

HomePlay – Spaceteam

Spaceteam is actually one of my favorite games! I’ve played it thoroughly in the past. I think the game is brilliant in that it easily creates a high-intensity atmosphere with a strong sense of urgency.





Basically, it’s a game that you can only play when you’re on the same WiFi connection as people, i.e. you are together in person. You and your friends work together to fly a rapidly failing space ship. Each of you is continually receiving a set of instructions that is ever-changing, and only one of you has the required buttons and dials on the screen to fix the issue. For example, player A may have “set the thermoblasters to 5”, and player C has to hear their instructions, and realize that they have control over the thermoblasters. It’s an excellent, easy to understand, quick, silly game.

Game Creation

Spaceteam is an iPhone and Android game created by Henry Smith. It was released in 2012. Originally, Spaceteam was actually an experiment for Henry Smith to learn app development.


Spaceteam was widely successful. Many major video game news outlets have reviewed it highly, and it has been downloaded over three million times. It hasn’t made much money though, but that was never Henry Smith’s intention. Critics are widely in favor of it, but some reviews I read have said that there isn’t much variety if you continue to play the game many times. It won Game City Prize’s Best Game of 2013 award, IndieCade’s interaction award, A MAZE Indie Connect Festival, and Excellence in Innovation at the 10th Annual International Mobile Gaming Awards.


Reading Response – Level design lesson: to the right, hold on tight by Anna Anthropy

I find the problem of tutorials level addressed in the reading particularly interesting. In my opinion, this type of design is like a bridge between the real world and the game world. The designer first tries to appeal to the player’s common sense, for example in Mario’s case, a height difference entices you to jump on it, and that malevolent beings entice you to murder it. While the player perform these more instinctive tasks, the designer subtly implants logics that are special to the game world into the player’s mind, e.g. banging your head against the ceiling gives you bonuses. Thus the player smoothly transitions from the real life into the game’s context.

I also noticed the effectiveness of this type of tutorial level depends on the experience of the player. Since we’ve all played Mario, we don’t really need to be taught the basics of any platformer: you try to go left and right and jump and kill stuff and collect stuff to reach a place. In this sense Mario is like the tutorial level for almost all platform games. I imagine the mechanics of these games will probably hard to grasp for aliens that move by floating around in mid-air. An interesting effect of such failure is that sometimes I’ve been playing a much harder version of the game for a long time before I realize there’s a button that does some special thing.

But on the other hand, in some cases I feel that tutorial is not even necessary. The urge, the eagerness to play is simply so great within us that we eventually figure out how to play (likely by poking everything) even when we have no clues. I have a friend back in China who recounted his experience as a child when he played a complicated game in English, which at the time he couldn’t understand a word of. Yet apparently he somehow figured everything out had great fun. Human’s surprising willingness to figure things out in order to have fun amazes me.

The Yahwg



Have You Played… The Yawhg?

Nitesh and Avi’s Thoughts

Overall we enjoyed the game! We think it would make a fun party game… not so much a single-player experience. More spectators would probably make it even better. The rounds are short, taking no more than 5-20 minutes depending on how many characters are in play and also how carefully you make decisions. Our first round was confusing to us because we weren’t sure how stats affected the gameplay and how our choices affected the stats. After playing a second time, we definitely began to see the appeal, but were unsure about replayability. After doing some reading of both Steam user and critical reviews (there’s even a wiki!) we realized how many endings there are (50+ for each of 4 characters). Once players learn how their actions affect their stats, they can effectively just “grind” their way through the game and ensure a positive outcome. However, the appeal of the game is seeing all of the different scenarios. We agree with the critical praise of the game’s artwork and music, both of which are somewhat beautiful but also kind of haunting. Overall, we both agreed that we’re happy to now have this game in our Steam libraries!

Level Design Lesson: To the Right, Hold on Tight – Response – AJT

Level Design Lesson: To the Right, Hold on Tight was a fun, nostalgic read (having grown up in the 80s with the original Nintendo); and also affirmed for me an ongoing interest in the relationships between game design and theatre and performance design.

The author correctly affirms the tedious nature of drawn out play tutorials while celebrating the potential of a game to teach its player how to participate through play itself. As a theatre maker/designer/director, this is a conversation that I often have with my colleagues. In theatre, there is generally no means of providing an instructional prologue on how to “read” the performance, rather the performance itself must invite the audience member into the world and delicately introduce them to the performance dramaturgy and vocabulary.

I am of late exploring ways in which performance can become less passive and more active/participatory – more like game-play, and so this essay proved valuable in its positing of design as a means of inviting (“the A button big and bright and concave”), of cultivating observation (“note how long this mushroom’s path to Mario is: the player is given the opportunity to observe the mushroom), and of training (the staged jumps at the top of the staircases – one without a pit and one with).

I valued, too, the essay’s reminder that all design is informed by “an understanding and anticipation of how…a thing will be used.” This is useful in my own primary artistic practice, but also as I wade further into these class experiments in game design – both in a continued excavating of the potential shared theories of game design and theatre/performance,and as a means of expanding my practice into the medium of game design itself.


Spaceteam is a free-to-play local cooperative multiplayer video game developed and published by Henry Smith of Sleeping Beast Games for iOS and Android operating systems. It was released on December 1, 2012 and is described as a ‘cooperative shouting game for phones and tablets’. The game uses multiple smartphone or tablet devices, connected via wifi or bluetooth, to enter a shared game of up to two to four players.” (Wikipedia)

The Apple app store describes the game’s top features as being: teamwork, confusion, shouting, an untimely demise, beveled nanobuzzers, auxiliary technoprobes, and four-stroke pluckers.

After leaving a job at Electronic Arts, Spaceteam designer Henry Smith, began creating Spaceteam as an experiment and an excuse to learn how to code for iOS and Android. Smith has stated on record that his biggest inspiration came from the sci-fi world and from the co-op board game Space Alert.

The game has been incredibly well-received by both critics and players, has won a series of awards (including Game City Prize 2013’s Best Game of 2013, the IndieCade Interaction Award, the A MAZE Indie Connect Festival prize, an International Mobile Gaming Award, the Independent Games Festival 2013 prize, and a showcase at the PAX East Indie Showcase 2013), and has to-date been downloaded by more than 3 million customers.

In the subsequent years, Smith has designed two spin-offs: the digital Spaceteam ESL ( a collaboration with Concordia University), in which the original Spaceteam is redesigned to make use of frequently used English words in an ascending order of difficulty; and a shortly-to-be-released Spaceteam board/card game.

Reading Response – Level Design Lesson: To the Right, Hold on Tight

This article has an interesting breakdown of level design and how to teach your audience about how to play a game without the use of lengthy dialog or heavily guided tutorial.

The author brings up how the entirety of the Super Mario Bros. series is centered around the verb “Jump.” By boiling the game down to its main action, a game designer can design levels to reinforce that while teaching the core concepts for the game. The beginning levels for Mario teach all of the most important points of the game, and they are all derived from his basic jump. Mario’s jump can kill enemies, break bricks, activate “?” blocks, etc. and the audience does not question it because it feels natural to the core of the game.

By introducing all the core concepts to the game early (avoid/jump on enemies, break bricks, get mushrooms, etc.) the game is able to introduce more difficult trials like jumping over pits and sequences with falling obstacles.

You can see this kind of introductory guidance in a lot of games of that era especially including Mega Man, Metroid, etc. The levels are designed around guiding you towards certain areas visually and teaching you about the core mechanics of the games. In Mega Man this is shown by for example, having certain enemies that spawn slightly above you, but who cannot hit you at first, allowing the player to get used to jumping and shooting. They also have levels designed around directing Mega Man to fall into certain corners of the stage to avoid enemies, which in turn teaches the player how to maneuver in mid-air. This combined with the jumping and shooting inherently builds a skill set for the player to allow them to maneuver around difficult bosses and complex levels just from combining the three main actions: Jumping, Shooting, and Moving in-air.

By teaching the audience to play your game without hand-holding them through a tutorial, the player often feels more comfortable in their own ability to play the game because they have better internalized the controls. In addition the players feel like they have really earned their place in later levels because they feel that they learned and developed their skills without being explicitly told what to do.

Reading Response – How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days

I thought the article was insightful and easy to follow. The entire process was broken down into 6 steps which very much focused on design methodologies.

  1. Setup: Rapid is a State of Mind
  2. Embrace the Possibility of Failure – it Encourages Creative Risk Taking
  3. Enforce Short Development Cycles (More Time != More Quality)
  4. Constrain Creativity to Make You Want it Even More
  5. Gather a Kickass Team and an Objective Advisor – Mindset is as Important as Talent
  6. Develop in Parallel for Maximum Splatter

The restrictions in which the team put themselves under (i.e. – not sharing code, interacting primarily at the beginning and end of the week, etc.) really surprised me. I would have expected constant collaboration to lead to great games, but often it seemed that constant collaboration led to distraction and cluttering of ideas. Additionally, the fact that they advocated for spending the least amount of time possible on the game’s system surprised me. It seems that too much time can also lead to a cluttering of ideas and inhibits for simple, sleek ideas to develop.

I thought the biggest take-away was to constantly prototype new systems and games. Worrying about the details of characters can wait for later, but developing a simple, system that works well is priority over anything – especially when it comes to developing experimental systems.


Link to Article 


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Mindmap is a game of playing thoughts in a brain. At each turn, players move their pieces in the hope for collecting Ideas. Just like someone’s mind, the board is continually changed by the Thought’s actions. As players move over the board, they collect Moods tiles, acting as stats used to resolve mental distraction (standoffs) caused by too many thoughts in one place.

A video of a full playthrough is available at: . The video is slightly different from the rules in that the mood dial is randomly spun at each confrontation rather than being incrementing by one after each round, a change we found to increase strategy in moving and placing your pieces and removing randomness.

The full rules are available at

Our changes over iterations included removing minigames and instead adding tactics to tile placement, changing the board tiles from rectangular to hexagonal and theming the game first as rescuing a “drunk” target piece from the board, to thinking up ideas for elon musk, to competing to collect a number of ideas on a board that fluidly changes over time.